Children who eat a plant-based diet have similar growth and nutrition compared to their meat-eating peers


happy girl child eating vegetables

A new research study has found that children who eat a plant-based diet have similar growth and nutrition to children who eat meat.

However, children who follow a plant-based diet have an increased odds of the underweight condition.

A study of nearly 9,000 children revealed that those who ate a plant-based diet had the same measures of growth and nutrition as children who ate meat. The research also found that children who follow a vegan diet have an increased likelihood of developing underweight status, underscoring the need for special care when planning diets for vegetarian children. The study was published in the journal May 2, 2022 Pediatrics It is led by researchers at St Michael’s Hospital in Unity Health Toronto.

The results come as a switch to a vegan diet Accelerates in Canada. In 2019, updates on Canadian Food Guide He urged Canadians to adopt plant-based proteins, such as beans, nuts and tofu, instead of meat.

Jonathan Maguire

Dr. Jonathan Maguire, a pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Unity Health Toronto and a scientist at the MAP Center for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital. Credit: Unity Health Toronto

“Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen a growing popularity of plant-based diets and a changing food environment with greater access to plant-based alternatives, yet we haven’t seen research into the nutritional outcomes of children on vegan diets in Canada,” he said. Dr. Jonathan Maguire, lead author of the study and a pediatrician at St Michael’s Hospital in Unity Health Toronto.

This study shows that Canadian children who follow a vegetarian diet have similar growth and biochemical measures of nutrition as children who follow a non-vegetarian diet. A plant-based diet has been associated with a higher odds of being underweight, underscoring the need for careful nutritional planning for underweight children when considering plant-based diets.”

Researchers evaluated 8,907 children aged six months to eight years. The children were all participating in TARGet the kids! Data and the cohort study were collected between 2008 and 2019. Participants were categorized by vegetarian status – defined as a dietary pattern that excluded meat – or non-vegetarian status.

Researchers found that children who followed a plant-based diet had the same average body mass index (BMI), height, iron, vitamin D, and cholesterol levels as those who ate meat. The results showed evidence that children who followed a plant-based diet had approximately two times higher odds of being underweight, which is defined as less than the third percentile for body mass index. There was no evidence of an association with being overweight or obese.

Being underweight is an indicator of undernutrition, and it may be a sign that the quality of a child’s diet is not meeting the child’s nutritional needs to support normal growth. For children eating a plant-based diet, researchers emphasized access to health care providers who can provide growth monitoring, education, and guidance to support their growth and nutrition.

International guidelines on a vegetarian diet in infancy and childhood have different recommendations, and previous studies that have evaluated the relationship between a vegetarian diet and childhood development and nutritional status have had conflicting results.

“Vegan diets are recognized as a healthy eating pattern due to increased intake of fruits, vegetables, fiber, and whole grains and lower saturated fats; however, few studies have evaluated the impact of vegetarian diets on childhood development and nutritional status,” said Dr. Maguire, who is also a scientist at the MAP Center for Solutions. Urban Health at St. Michael’s Hospital, “Vegan diets appear to be appropriate for most children.”

One limitation of the study is that the researchers did not assess the quality of plant-based diets. Researchers note that plant-based diets come in many forms and that the quality of an individual’s diet may be very important to growth and nutritional outcomes. The authors say more research is needed to examine the quality of plant-based diets in childhood, as well as growth and nutrition outcomes among children who follow a vegan diet, which excludes meat and animal-derived products such as dairy, eggs and honey.

Reference: “Vegan diet, growth, and nutrition in early childhood: a longitudinal cohort study” by Laura J. Elliott, RD, MSc; Charles DJ Keon Stoneman, Ph.D.; Catherine S. David JA Jenkins, MD, PhD, DSc, FRSC, FRCP, FRCPC; Cornelia M. Borkhoff, MA, Ph.D.; Jonathon L. Maguire, MD, MS, FRCS on behalf of TARGet KIDS! Al Taawon, 2 May 2022, Available here. Pediatrics.
DOI: 10.1542 / peds.2021-052598

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), St Michael’s Hospital Foundation and the SickKids Foundation.